Drilling for Water in Southern Sudan

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, sees a drilling rig in action in Southern Sudan.

The sun is scorching. This blond head is frying five minutes after arriving. But the men from CRS’ Southern Sudan program are entranced….

Sudan drilling

CRS’ water-sanitation team drill another borehole in southern Sudan, this time next to a public health unit (small clinic in a hut) in Cuei Magon. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

A copper pipe swirls down, down, down. It’s moving so slowly I can only see a slight circular motion, but I’m told it’s biting into the soil below. A trough of water lubricates the pipe as it digs. A pump sends the water from a plastic-lined pit to the point of drilling. Hired helpers shovel out the muddy earth as it bubbles up into the trough from far below.

A small box separated into 20 squares is filled with soil samples. These samples tell the team leader Victor Odhiambo how close the bit is to hitting water. They all look the same to me—chunks of gray dirt, occasionally with a tinge of red. But I trust him. He thinks we’ll hit water at about 230 feet.

I can only see a few yards of the piping, but I’m told pipe has already been dropped 44 feet. I’m confused, especially when I’m told the current pipe is only six feet long. I’m dying for a book and glass of iced tea (even while knowing ice is out of the question back at the compound), but I gear up for an engineering lesson.

It turns out that we continually connect six-foot pipes to the drilling bit. As soon as a pipe drills down its two yards, the drill is stopped and another pipe is connected for its journey. Fortunately the current pipe hits its mark right as we’re standing there, and I finally figure out the system when another rod is connected.

Children run by spinning a metal hoop with a stick. I take some shots. I take some more shots of the drilling rig, the water team and other CRS staff watching—and of the hut that serves as a health center right beside. But it’s hot.

A couple more shots and then I can’t hold back any longer, even though I feel like I’m taking men away from the final play of the Super Bowl. “OK guys, I’ve got what I need!” Five of us jump back into the car. The drilling team remains behind, expecting to hit water the next day. Their committed service under an unrelenting sun and in the remotest of areas is a true gift to the people of Sudan.

-Debbie DeVoe

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